AIDS Patients Protest in Henan

People infected with AIDS through an official blood-selling scheme storm a government building in central China.

aids2011-305.jpg A man gets a free AIDS test during an event to mark World's AIDS Day in Chongqing, Dec. 1, 2011.

AIDS patients in the central Chinese province of Henan, many of whom were infected through tainted blood transfusions, have renewed calls for compensation and healthcare payouts after angry protests outside a local government building sparked clashes with police.

Hundreds of AIDS patients tore down the gates of the Henan provincial government buildings on Monday, in a bid to get officials to take heed of their demands.

"[On Tuesday], around noon, 200 people went back to gather outside the government buildings, to seek an explanation," said protester and AIDS patient Li Xiuping. "They were really brutal and they pushed us to the ground."

"Four of them got me by the arms and dragged me away," she said, adding that the authorities had apparently called for reinforcements later in the day.

"By the afternoon, a lot of officials had arrived from other districts, and were forcibly shoving people onto buses," she said. "We were all taken back [to our home districts]."

"Everyone is very angry," said activist Li Xige following Monday's violence, which was sparked when hundreds of AIDS patients and their relatives gathered outside the Henan government building in the provincial capital Zhengzhou to protest at a lack of affordable medication and social welfare payments.

Li said the AIDS patients wanted to sue the local authorities for failing to deliver promised treatment packages and adequate compensation after they were infected via tainted blood supplies in local hospitals and clinics.

"We have tried to file a lawsuit, but the Henan government won't let us," she said. "If it went to court, we could get more compensation, and then there's the issue of the children's medicines."

She said many of the protesters' children had also become infected with the HIV virus through mother-to-infant transmission, but that the authorities had recently begun to hand out inferior medications.

"We used to take imported medicines, but they have changed it to medicines produced in China, and there are very severe side-effects," Li said.

AIDS clash

About 300 Chinese AIDS patients and their relatives stormed and tore down the main gate of the Henan provincial government, prompting a baton attack by local police, protesters said.

Activists estimate that at least 100,000 people in Henan alone are believed to have been infected with HIV during the blood-selling schemes run by local governments, which bought blood donations from impoverished rural residents, but also took a cut of the proceeds.

Collectors paid villagers to give their blood, pooled it without testing for HIV or any other infections, extracted the valuable plasma and then re-injected the blood back into those who sold it. Around 40,000 of them have now died of AIDS, leaving around 60,000 still living with HIV.

An official who answered the phone at the Henan provincial government offices confirmed the protests had taken place.

"We have finished dealing with it now," he said. "We have done some work [with the protesters] and they have all left now."

"They have made their demands; the main thing is that they want higher standards of care," he said. "The provincial government hasn't yet made a decision on these rules."

Henan AIDS patients launched a campaign to file a class action lawsuit against the authorities in July, calling on others affected by the tainted blood scandals to join them.

The initiative came after several years of petitioning central government authorities in Beijing, to no avail.

Activist Sun Ya said seven lawyers had already offered to represent the group on a pro bono basis, and that some of the group was using China's popular microblogging services to recruit more people to join the lawsuit.

It wasn't clear whether Sun's group was involved in this week's protest.

Clinics 'still operating'

Retired gynecologist and former medical professor Gao Yaojie, currently living in the United States, says the majority of new HIV infections come from a network of thousands of blood-selling and transfusion clinics which are still operating in poorer regions of the country.

Gao, 85, fled China in 2009 in order to publish work relating to the scandal of HIV-infected blood transfusions and the practice of blood-selling in poverty-stricken rural areas.

Chinese health authorities said the number of people living with HIV/AIDS stood at around 780,000 at the end of 2011, a figure Gao said was closer to 10 million.

Gao warned last year that there are currently more than 10,000 blood-selling stations across China, in all regions of the country, and that only around 10 percent of HIV infections are transmitted through sex.

Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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